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Home > Publications > Historic New England Magazine > Summer 2000 > Restoring a Giardino Segreto

Restoring a Giardino Segreto

The dolphin fountain at Codman House, Lincoln, Massachusetts, c. 1903.




Columns salvaged from the great fire of Boston in 1872 frame a statue of Bacchus, c. 1903.

In 1899, fifty-seven-year-old Sarah Codman undertook what was to become her most ambitious gardening project. For two years she worked with her children to create a garden in the Italian style, a landscape feature popular with wealthy Americans in the late nineteenth century. A sophisticated marriage of landscape and architecture, the garden is situated in a hollow to create a secluded outdoor room-a giardino segreto- with a lily pool, columns, and a fountain under a pergola. The garden gave Sarah great pleasure, and she continued to care for it until her health began to fail. Later, in 1938, the hurricane caused tremendous devastation, toppling and shattering many of the columns, and by the time the property came to SPNEA in 1969, the Italian garden was in serious disrepair. Although SPNEA has revived the landscaping, several crucial structural elements are still lacking, so that the design does not currently reflect Sarah's original concept.

Last year, through a grant from the Massachusetts Historical Commission, SPNEA hired Portland, Maine-based landscape architects Mohr & Seredin, Inc. to prepare a preservation plan, and work has begun, funded through the Ogden Codman Trust. The marble columns at the far end of the garden, salvaged from a Codman-owned building at Exchange Place in Boston, are now being restored. The fountain, modeled on one in Florence designed by Andrea del Verrocchio, is being reproduced and will be reinstalled next spring as the focal point Sarah intended for the garden entrance.

-Diane Viera, Vice President for Marketing & Communications

Restoring a Giardino Segreto